A listening experiment that worked

Some of you may be aware how interested I am in the teaching of listening and my belief that teachers should try to help their learners ‘learn to listen’.

I have tried a number of techniques with a particular class of mine (see class profile at the end of the post), but although they have improved, they still find listening very difficult and are nervous every time I go near the CD player.

I teach in the Czech Republic, and the language has a very different stress pattern to English, and while I keep telling my students to focus on content words (which should carry the stress and therefore be easier to hear), it has been difficult to implement with this class, who try to listen to everything and then get frustrated and say English is just too fast.

So after the last listening lesson (English File Third Edition, file 8A, page 61, listening 51 & 52) which didn’t go quite according to plan, I started thinking about how I could force them into listening to the content words. And then it hit me! I would make them listen to only the content words!

Lacking any better ideas, next lesson I took the tape script and underlined the content words in the next two tasks which we hadn’t managed (listening 53 and 54). There were two characters in the listening but I didn’t let this put me off! I read the first half to my class (in two voices 🙂 ), only the content words, at a normal speaking pace. Immediately, 4 of the students looked at each other in surprise and recalled almost every word when asked! The others were a little slower, and I repeated it for them all to check what they heard the first time.

Then I did the same with the second half of the text, and this time I saw the lights coming on in their heads – they really didn’t need to hear all of the words, as they were building the meaning in their minds!

I repeated this process again with the second (related) listening (54, CD3)

This experiment worked much better than I had hoped, so I put 3 of the sentences I had read onto the board and asked them to fill in the missing words.

Here were the sentences and their guesses:

Original text Content words on board Their guess to complete After a hint from me
since I was a child since child since I was child since I was a child
go to the cinema go cinema go to the cinema
He’ll soon see what’s happening, and stop seeing his ex. soon see what’s happening, stop seeing ex soon he see what’s happening, he stop seeing the ex soon he’ll see what’s happening, he’ll stop seeing the ex

 

As you can see, these were not bad guesses from my pre-int class! I was particularly happy to see that they could notice what type of words were missing and where they were missing from. They then checked by reading the tape script.

I was especially pleased that their ‘mistake’ in the last sentence gave me the opportunity to show them how their idea was perfectly valid and we practised saying both versions and fitting the small words between the BIG content words as we clapped the content words. We then went through the other examples to show how there is the same amount of time between the content words irrespective of how many words there are. I felt that clapping as we practised helped to reinforce the point of the exercise.

I will definitely be doing a bit more of this, and maybe in the future I will even consider giving them the gapped tape script to complete as a post listening task.

 

CLASS PROFILE

Level: Pre-Int

7 students: 6 women, one retired, two mid-thirties, and three in their fifties. One man, mid-thirties. All are from a small town and none listen to English outside class or have any contact with English outside class (except when doing homework with their children/grandchildren!)

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